Onam or Thiruvonam festival of Kerala usually falls in the month of August and September every year. In 2019, the celebration of the festival started on 1 September and will be concluded on 13 September.
What is Onam?
The word Onam is originated from the Sanskrit word Shravanam which refers to one of the 27 Nakshatars or constellations. In South India, Thiru is used for anything associated with the Lord Vishnu and it is believed that Thiruvonam is the Nakshatra of Lord Vishnu who pressed the King Mahabali to the underworld with his foot.
Onam Festival: History
Onam is celebrated to honour the home-coming of a mythical-demon king Mahabali. Mahabali was a demon but he was known for being generous and kind-hearted. Gods were very insecure about the popularity of the demon king and so, they asked help from Lord Vishnu. As, Mahabali worshipped Lord Vishnu so, Vishnu told Gods that he would aid them but did not involve in a battle with Mahabali.
Lord Vishnu transformed into a poor dwarf Brahmin called Vamana and went to Mahabali’s kingdoms, asking for three wishes. He asked Mahabali for property right over a piece of land which measured ‘three paces’. Mahabali agreed to fulfil Vamana’s desire.
Vamana started to grow in size and his first feet covered the Earth and second feet covered the sky. For the third feet no place were left, and then Mahabali requested Vamana to place third feet on his head, thus, burying himself into underworld. However, by seeing the devotion of Mahabali, Lord Vishnu was impressed and told him that he could return to earth once a year to visit his people and his kingdom during Onam. And so, every year during this period Onam festival is celebrated.
Onam Festival: Celebrations
People make the carpet of flowers which is known as ‘Pookkalam’ and lay in front of their house to welcome the King Mahabali. Several traditional rituals are performed like Snake boat races, Onappottan, Kaazhchakkula, Puli Kali, Kaikottikkali etc. by a lavish feast called ‘Sadhya’. People wear new clothes, cook delicacies and serve them on banana leaves by a cup of Payasam.
In the festival, people also perform traditional dance, games and music which are referred as Onakalikal. The nine course meal is known as Onasadya which comprises several dishes like rice, sambar, rasam, avail and more. They served on Thiruvonam the main day of celebrations.
Onam festival 10 days are known as Atham, Chithira, Chodi, Vishakam, Anizham, Thriketa, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradom and Thiruvonam.
Onam festival: Events
Pookkalam: Several designs with the help of flowers are made by the people and lay in front of their houses. With the passing of the day during Onam festival, a new layer of flowers is added to the Pookkalam. Even at some places Pookkalam competitions are held.
Onasadya: At the main day that is Thiruonam Onasadya meal is prepared and served on a Banana leaf. It is a nine course meal which consists of at least four to five vegetables. Most of the families cook nine to 13 dishes for the Onasadya. Even several restaurants over there offer as many as 30 dishes for the Onasadya.
Onakalikal: Refers to all the games played at the festival of Onam. Talappanthukali is a game played with a ball is a favourite game of men. Men also play archery or Ambeyyal. Women engage themselves in making Pookkalam and also perform several traditional dances.
Vallamkali Boat Race: It is also known as snake boat race. In a boat riding competition, around 100 boatmen compete with each other. This is the most famous among people over there. In various patterns the boats are decorated beautifully. Even several people visit the city to witness this race.
Elephant Procession: This is the most awaited event of the Onam. Elephant is decorated with flowers, ornaments and metals. Elephants by giving small gestures dance and interact with people. Also, the elephant is made to take a round of whole Thrissur where this procession is held.
Folk Dances: Women perform folk dances which is also a major attraction of the festival. Kaikottikali is a clap dance performed by women. While dancing they praise King Mahabali. They also dance in a circle and it is known as Thumbi Thullai.
So, now you may have come to know about the Onam festival and how it is celebrated.